In an official meeting, Sanford Commissioner Randy Jones stated, “I mean it might be un-politically correct, but I don’t care. The fact of the matter is, I don’t think you will get a lot of takers on residential [development] next to a mosque just because of what’s going on worldwide.”
American-Muslims in Jones’ district voiced the concern that because his comments were made in an official capacity, it would sanction the view, represented in blogs, that Muslims should be isolated from community life based on tragic conflicts happening overseas.
On Saturday, Sentinel columnist Darryl Owens (“Note to Muslims: We Didn’t Yield Free Speech on 9-11”) depicts Jones’ statements as coming from a cool, cavalier frame of mind that throws caution to the wind and is not shy to state the “obvious.”
The real issue is public responsibility. Elected officials are accountable to their constituents. They have an ethical and legal duty to ensure that public policy is not shaped by stereotypes of minority groups.
Owens was eager to point out that “you can’t ignore that a recent Pew Research Center study found that some 26 percent of the Muslims surveyed ages 18 to 30 justify suicide bombings in rare circumstances.”
He left out the general findings of the study, that American-Muslims are overwhelming middle-class, mainstream and well integrated into American society.
American-Muslims are part of the fabric of this great nation, and comments that appear to alienate Muslims from community life have no place in public discourse. Furthermore, it is reminiscent of long-ago zoning policies used in cities like Birmingham, Ala., that endorsed city planning as a tool to segregate minorities out of white residential neighborhoods.
Because the American-Muslim community engaged in productive and positive dialogue with Jones, the commissioner is now cognizant that residential communities are flourishing around mosque. For example, the mosque on Floral Street in Ocoee enjoys a large congregation; that mosque is nestled in a quaint residential neighborhood in the heart of downtown Ocoee. Also, there is the Lake Buena Vista mosque, only minutes from the Bay Hill community.
Jones contacted Muslims who stated that they were alarmed by his comments, personally to assure them that city planning would not be influenced by perceived negative perceptions based on stereotypes of Muslims. We applaud his sincere efforts to reach out to the American-Muslim community and allay their concerns.
Danette Zaghari-Mask is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) — Orlando.